Vancouver parks commissioner pushes for ‘sensory playground’

Vancouver parks board to consider proposal for fully accessible playground

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Vancouver’s parks board will consider a proposal for what is known as a “sensory park,” a recreational space designed to be accessible to all children, including those with autism spectrum disorder or mobility issues.

ABC Parks Board Commissioner Jas Virdi is promoting the vision of an “inclusive and accessible sensory park for children,” including ramps and paths suitable for children in wheelchairs and “sensory” elements designed for children with autism.

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Virdi introduced the motion in December and it will be heard at a Jan. 22 meeting where the board is expected to vote on it.

Virdi’s motion explains the benefits of accessible sensory parks, saying “there is a known deficiency of these specialized spaces within Vancouver’s parks and recreation facilities.”

Playgrounds are often noisy and hectic places. Children with autism, who sometimes process the senses differently, may experience sensory overload in that environment and feel overwhelmed.

This is a personal issue for Virdi, as it is for many Vancouverites.

Virdi’s four-year-old son Arjan has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. His father remembers that sometimes when he played with his son in local parks, he would say, “other parents would stigmatize you or look at you funny as if you were a bad parent because your child would have sensory overload or collapse in the park. “

A fully accessible sensory park could include areas such as quiet corners, designed to help overstimulated children “desensitize” and calm down, Virdi said.

Vancouver has worked to make play spaces more accessible. Some recently remodeled playgrounds, such as those at Kits Beach and Douglas Park, were designed for children with “neurodiverse needs,” a growing term that describes the different ways different people’s brains work.

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But, Virdi says, more can be done with new types of “sensory” play equipment that allow children to activate their senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and balance. These can be helpful for the cognitive and emotional development of children with a variety of disorders, including autism and ADHD, she said.

Virdi pointed to the other Vancouver. Last year, the city of Vancouver, Washington. opened a remodeled playground described as “radically inclusive” in its design.

Saskatoon also opened an accessible playground in 2018 which included a wheelchair-accessible swing and elements to stimulate the senses of children with special needs.

Pacific Autism Family Network board president and co-founder Sergio Cocchia said his organization fully supports the proposal, which will fill a void.

“A park that is accessible to all and has space for families to spread out, if necessary, is essential for some of the families in our community,” Cocchia said via email.

The Pacific Autism Family Network estimates that one in 66 Canadian children has an autism spectrum disorder.

ABC Vancouver engaged to build an accessible sensory playground as part of the party’s 2022 election campaign.

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Virdi is one of six ABC Vancouver-affiliated parks board commissioners who will be elected to the seven-member board. But ABC abruptly lost its majority on the parks board last month when three commissioners split from the party after ABC Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim announced his plan to seek the abolition of the elected body. Virdi is one of three ABC commissioners who remained in the party and support the mayor’s plan.

ABC Vancouver County. Lisa Dominato, a former Vancouver school board member, said the city is “committed to supporting the full participation of children and youth with disabilities and neurodiverse needs.”

If the board approves Virdi’s motion, staff will be directed to identify the best location for a fully accessible park, seek input from parents and organizations, and explore funding options, including options outside of the park board’s budget, such as private donations. , corporate associations and community services. fundraising.

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